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Sleep Tips

How to Tell Your Dog The Bed’s Off Limits

Buster came to live with us, his forever family, when he was almost 2-years-old. He was timid, and at times the freedom we offered seemed to overwhelm his senses. Buster’s previous owner kept him (with his 75-pound frame) in a small kennel most of the day. A broken spirit coupled with anxiety that couldn’t be contained made him seem fearful. It was tough to imagine anyone treating such a sweet and handsome dog so poorly.

One day I realized that anytime I held something in my hand, Buster would run and cower in the nearest corner. It pained me to see the brow above his panda bear eyes scrunched and wrinkled with his ears tucked back against his fawn-colored fur. To give him a boost of confidence and show him there was nothing to fear, I decided to let Buster sniff anything and everything I held in my hand (except food). Over time, Buster not only gained confidence, he decided inspecting whatever I held in my hand was one of his jobs. I let him do his “work,” and he flourished, even showing a hint of curiosity around the yard and inside the garage.

Months later, the fireworks of July had exploded and faded, and our family of three was settling in. Buster, now accustomed to his daily stroll around the neighborhood, would jump and turn circles at the mention of a walk. He discovered the joy of Saturday morning bacon. His stiff-legged horror of being held like an 80-pound baby was becoming tolerable (we fattened him up a bit). Life was good, and Buster’s sleep arrangements were even better.

After his traumatic start in life, when Buster came to live with us, we wanted him to feel at home. That’s why we let him sleep in the bed. Well, I agreed with my wife to let him sleep in the bed (you’ll see why I mention this in a few more paragraphs). We’d had good history with pets in the sleeping area. Our last dog would start the night at the foot of our mattress then leave around midnight. We soon discovered Buster had no plan to copy our old pet’s patterns. When Buster hopped on our mattress, he snuggled in for the night, which was no problem – until he started snoring.

At first the snoring didn’t bother us much, but soon, we noticed Buster was a dreamer. Whimpering preceded warbling coughs, twitching and kicking that often struck me in the most unfortunate places. After a number of sleepless nights, we decided Buster needed a bed which we purchased and placed on the floor on my wife’s side.

The first night was not a success. The second and third weren’t much better. Buster would stay in his bed until the lights went out and then silently leap into bed. Finally, I decided to sit beside him, while he was in bed and pet him while repeating the mantra, “Buster’s Bed.” I heard a pet expert say single word commands work best. Since he knew his name, I decided to show him his first possession – a bed.

Our new bedtime routine consisted of me flopping down on the floor beside the dog bed and scratching his neck saying “Buster’s Bed” on loop. It worked. By week two, Buster knew what I meant when I said, “Buster’s bed.” When I told him to get in Buster’s bed, he’d lumber to the green canvas, circle eight or nine times and lie down. Then my travel scheduled picked up.

In my job for Leggett & Platt, I travel to a number of mattress industry events. When I returned home from one of those trips, a curious phenomenon unfolded: Buster had a hard time staying in his bed. Turns out, while I was away, my wife had reneged on our agreement to make him sleep in his bed, and Buster had no trouble readapting to spending his nights on our hybrid mattress. For months, I basically gave up and let him sleep wherever he wanted, but the snoring and kicking and heat got to be too much. So after a while, I was back to sitting on the floor, petting and saying “Buster’s bed” over and over and over again.

Fast forward a few years and Buster knows his bed, but still snores. I started giving him all-natural Snore Stop and slowly moving his bed away from ours until he was on the other side of the room, but it still didn’t work. He goes from Buster to “Buzz-saw” in no time. Ragged and unrested, I continued searching for a solution and recently took it a step further; I moved his bed into our walk-in closet and shut the door.

My wife says we can’t lock him out of our room because he feels rejected. I suppose I agree. It was hard, look at that face and tell me you’d be so steely? That night in the closet didn’t end well. In the middle of the night he freaked out and started pawing at the door. He’s a nervous little guy, so I felt really bad, but I was exhausted and felt like I was running out of options. Even though that night didn’t go well, and Buster tried to bust out, when I was asleep, I was out like a light, sleeping much better than when he was in the room. So, we tried one more idea: a baby gate.

In our house there’s a bathroom that leads back to a master closest. We put a simple baby gate across the door to our room, giving him access to the entire closet and bathroom. Our thinking was this: if he does get nervous he can still see us and hear us, but his roaming and noise making is confined. The results so far? Near perfection. We are sleeping through the night and feeling great. Actually, we’re feeling unlike we’ve felt in years. Seriously. On top of that, Buster wakes up feeling like a million bucks. He’s changed. While he loves bones, we never used to see him play with his toys, but now he gets up, romps around, and starts playing with his tennis bone and stuffed cow. I think better sleep is good for the entire family, even your puppy.

Before the baby gate I had resorted to wearing earplugs, giving him Snore Stop, and even threatened to sleep in the guest bedroom. Now, we’re all feeling good and our sleep life has never been better!

Marsha Everton, a trends analyst from AIMSights, reports three out of four dog owners consider their pets to be children. I suppose we fall into this majority, but even though we’re suckers, sleep is important, and getting dogs out of the bed should be a priority. The number one cause of sleep loss is partner disturbance. It’s bad enough having to deal with that dynamic, but add 80-pounds of fur-covered flesh to the mix, and the struggle gets worse.

If you need a game plan with your dog for breaking the bad news that the bed’s off limits, here are some tips:

  1. Have a conversation with your spouse, stressing the importance of good sleep, and get buy-in.
  2. Set up a dedicated space for your dog to sleep, like a pet bed. Dogs are in-tune with routines and will respond to structure.
  3. At bedtime, sit beside your dog and pet him/her while repeating the pet’s name followed by the word bed. Yes, this sounds like lunacy, but it worked for me. Buster’s bed. Buster’s Bed. Buster’s bed.
  4. Be strong. Dogs don’t do well with the sometimes-in, sometimes-out approach. If he/she gets up to roam, guide your dog back to its bed, give them a pet and repeat step two.
  5. If snoring or pitter-pattering of paws is an issue, keep ear plugs handy. At first, I hated wearing earplugs, but the benefits of quality sleep started outweighing the initial discomfort. Now, it’s not a big deal to pop them in.
  6. If, unlike me, you don’t fold like a house of cards when your wife says your dog will feel rejected, set up a space far away from the bedroom where your dog can sleep. It’s good for everyone, even your pup.
  7. Get a baby gate so your pup can see and smell you, but can’t hop into bed.
  8. Remember, if you don’t sleep well, you may feel stressed, tired and angry, and you’ll be less attractive than if you’re well rested (it’s been proven, unless you think dark circles and bags under your eyes is sexy). When you feel terrible, you can’t give yourself or your dog the quality of life you each deserve, and that’s not good for anybody.

As you can see, our story has a happy ending. Since moving his pet bed into the closet, and installing the baby gate, we’re sleeping so much better. It only took Buster a couple of nights to adjust. He occasionally snores, scratches and walks around the room, but it’s nearly imperceptible. Success!

Since moving to his new suite Buster does come to the gate for the occasional 5 a.m. wake up paw, but we just say “Buster’s bed,” and he goes back to sleep. Okay, so I’ve folded a few times and opened the gate so he can hop in bed. We’re still a work in progress.

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